Every year, the Wayne County Sheriff’s Department’s Patrol and Investigation Division put over a hundred thousand hard miles on each of its cars. It wasn’t uncommon for a car to work nonstop from shift to shift. Exposed to all weather conditions as well as high-speed chases, sudden braking, and roads that varied from frozen dirt ruts to interstate highways, our vehicles served as the ideal test cars for the Motor City’s auto industry. And so each year, along with the many cars and utility vans they sold to the department, the Chrysler Corporation and Ford Motor Company donated dozens of scout cars.
With all the punishment we put the cars through, breakdowns often occurred. On Wednesday, October 24, 1973, I was on the job with one of my favorite partners, Ed Reedy.* His high energy and endlessly hilarious outlook on life made him a blast to work with. We were patrolling Edward Hines Park, an eighteen-mile-long parkway that ran northwest from the City of Dearborn to Northville Township. It was a hangout for hundreds, sometimes thousands, of young adults using drugs and alcohol.
Ed and I had already made four arrests for violations of the Controlled Substances Act. We returned to the park, and as we pulled into Nolar Bend Drive and approached a crowd, a guy stuffed a bag in his waistband and took off running. I lit out after him on foot and caught him as Ed followed in the car. When I grabbed him, I removed a large plastic bag from his waistband. It contained a pharmaceutical amphetamine—clear capsules with multicolored “beads” inside them—so I cuffed him and walked to the scout car, where I frisked him and emptied his pockets.
“Don’t you know what you’re doing to me!” he pleaded. “I can’t go back to the joint, man!”
“Then why are you dealing drugs?” Ed asked.
“That’s not my stuff—I was just holding it for another guy.”
“Bullshit!” I said as Ed put him in the backseat. “Then what are you doing with all this cash?”
“That’s not my money!”
“Anybody ever tell you you’re a crappy liar?” I said as Ed and I climbed back into the car.
“I’ll do anything, man! Please!”
“Then tell us where you got this shit, and don’t give us any more bull,” Ed said.
“Hey, square business. I’ll tell the truth.”
Ed grinned, read him his rights, and said, “Okay, as your shitty luck would have it, this car’s equipped with a lie detector. So if we catch you lying, we’re taking you straight to the county jail, not the station.”
“Okay,” the prisoner mumbled.
Ed removed our PA mike, which was switched off, and held it next to the screened-in backseat as the prisoner leaned forward with his arms cuffed behind him. “All right, give me your full name and address,” Ed told him.
“Uh, Richard William Kaufman.”
“And your address.”
“Yeah. Twenty-one, one-seventy-three Cathedral”
“In Detroit or Redford?” I asked.
That part was easy because we had his driver’s license. Then Ed asked different questions about drugs and hangouts in the park, and when something didn’t sound legit, he would turn dials and switches, shake his head, and say, “Our instruments show, that’s a lie. You’re facing real time here if you don’t start telling the truth!” The prisoner started squirming, then began rattling off names and telephone numbers of his sources. We transported him to the station, put him in lockup, and passed on the information to the Narcotics Bureau.
We were heading back to the park on Telegraph Road when a radiator hose broke and antifreeze and steam boiled up from the engine and onto the windshield. Ed pulled over to the shoulder, and the car sputtered to a halt. We raised the hood and were engulfed in a cloud of steam just as a carload of hippies cruised by, flipping us the bird and cackling, “Fuck you, pigs!”
Since the late 1960s, the drug culture had taken off, and violent crime and property crime almost quadrupled. With public civility and respect for social mores bottoming out, South Vietnam gradually falling to the Communists, campus protests ongoing, the Watergate scandal unfolding, and Vice President Agnew just resigning in disgrace, it was a difficult time to be a cop. There was nothing we could do about that carload of idiots or other people driving by and laughing at us. We just had to suck it up, call for a tow, and wait till we got another car.
When the wrecker arrived, the driver hooked up the front of the car, and Ed opened the passenger door to climb in. But then we both saw the seat and floor covered with greasy tools, dirty rags, and fast-food cartons.
“I’m not sitting on that shit!” Ed said. “Let’s ride back in the scout car.”
“But he’s hoisting it up,” I said.
“Who cares? Let’s have some fun.”
“Hell, yeah! Let’s pretend we died with the car!”
Ed laughed and told the wrecker driver we were riding in the scout car. He shrugged, and Ed jumped behind the wheel as I took shotgun. The tow driver hoisted the front wheels up, and we started the seven-mile trip back to the station. We rode through the cities of Dearborn Heights, Dearborn, and Inkster, and whenever a motorist passed by, Ed and I flopped our heads against the windows, eyes shut, mouths open, tongues hanging out.
We’d sneak a peek to see people with their mouths agape, and once the coast was clear, Ed and I burst out laughing. Then, as the next group of motorists approached, we’d do it all over again.
We pulled into the parking lot, and as the tow driver maneuvered the car in front of the garage and lowered us down, I asked Ed, “You think anybody called in on this?”
“Doesn’t matter,” he said. “Walters is on duty, and he’s cool.” Lieutenant Walters was our shift commander.
We walked into the back of the station and up to the front desk. Lieutenant Lawrence Walters, a World War II infantry vet, looked at us, took his glasses off, and said, “So you guys decided to ride back in the scout car, huh?”
I was the senior officer, so I replied, “We had to, Lieutenant. The seat in that wrecker was a mess!”
“Yeah, our uniforms would’ve been trashed,” Ed added.
Lieutenant Walters leaned back in his chair, stared a hole right through our bullshit, and said, “Take car thirty-three and get the hell back out there.”
Ed grabbed the keys, and as we drove out of the parking lot, he said, “I told you we’d have no issues with Walters.”
“Good thing, too,” I said. “I already got suspended once this month, for hassling two dopers.”
“Ah, you did your job. If you’ve never been suspended, you’re probably not being much of a cop.”
I laughed. “Well, I’ll say this for you, Ed: you got a hell of a lot of good information out of that jackass with only your imagination and the PA mike. You should be a narcotics officer.”
Five months later, Ed was transferred to the Narcotics Bureau as an undercover cop.